PROLONGATION OF A VISION
Dorothy Fillius Green authored a history of Briarcliffe Acres (1947-1997) in her book, Prolongation of a Vision. This book serves as the primary source of the content below.
According to the book, Kenneth C. Ellsworth purchased 600 acres in 1946 (through his real estate corporation, Yaupon Acres) for $150,000 with a vision to develop a retirement community. He named this property “Briarcliffe Acres”. The land included 3500 feet along the Atlantic Ocean, and extended ~6000 feet from the beach to the Intracoastal Waterway. Subsequent conveyances dispersed some of the land west of Highway 17. In 1996-97 a substantial amount of land on the south border was sold to Elizabeth Chapin Patterson, which later became part of the nearly 500-acre tract now occupied by the Meher Spiritual Center. Most of what remained is now the Town of Briarcliffe Acres.
By 1949 the financial condition of Yaupon Acres was in such poor shape, Ellsworth arranged for the newly formed Briarcliffe Realty Company to buy the mortgage. In 1954, in order to preserve his eleemosynary concept of the common areas (including parks and beachfront), Ellsworth applied for and was granted a Certificate of Incorporation of “Briarcliffe Acres” (renamed to “Briarcliffe Acres Association in 1971).
The stated purpose of the perpetual corporation was “to promote and improve the community of Briarcliffe Acres Development, to organize a social club, to do all things to advance and promote good neighborly feeling and brotherhood, to promote a governing body of the community to better formulate and carry out policies and programs of the community and to extend help and aid to its members in the community of Briarcliffe Acres Development.“
The Bylaws then added ”that by virtue of the recorded maps and plats showing the general development plan for Briarciffe Acres Development, showing also therein roads, easements, parks, lakes and other facilities existing and non existing at the present time, together with the beachfront area as reserved, this organization and association has as its purpose to organize and control the use of these various and sundry facilities to the best advantage of the community, and in connection therewith to organize and formulate rules, regulations and controlling use of same…”
The Board of Directors of the Realty Company accepted this eleemosynary concept, and thus conferred upon the Association the right of control and management over the common areas, including the valuable beachfront.
In 1954, after conflicts with the Realty Company, the Court conferred upon the Association by the Declaration of July 12, 1954, perpetual right of control and management over all common areas. Although the Realty Company filed notice of appeal to the SC Supreme Court, they failed to file by the deadline so the 1954 ruing stands. This included the fresh water lakes and the roads, both of which the Association later transferred to the Town.
The Association wasn’t activated until 1966 with election of a five-member Steering Committee on May 22, and the first Special Meeting of the Association was on July 17.
In 1967 the Association’s newly elected Board completed a comprehensive review of the Constitution and Bylaws, and proposed significant amendments, including property restrictions (including beachfront). In 1968, possibly driven by interest in beachfront development, the Briarcliffe Realty Company attempted to revoke the 1954 Declaration claiming the Association never assumed the power of control vested by that Declaration.
This resulted in the Association Board filing a motion to instruct its attorney to enter suit against the Realty Company. That suit was filed in March 1969, and what followed was five years of litigation that was partially resolved in July 1974, when the Supreme Court of South Carolina upheld the perpetual right of the Association to control and manage all common areas. However this judgement failed to define those common areas. Finally, in 1976, the Court defined the common areas to be controlled and managed by the Association, most importantly, included the beachfront. Also included were the barrier strip along Highway 17, lakes, parks and roads. These rulings were upheld and further defined in 1978, with transfer of deeds from Briarcliffe Realty to the Association of common areas within the Town of Briarcliffe Acres.
A petition for the incorporation of the Town was sent to the Secretary of the State of South Carolina in 1973, suggesting “the corporate limits of the Town of Briarcliffe Acres be the Atlantic Ocean on the southeast, The Patterson property (Meher Spiritual Center) on the southwest, US Highway 17 on the northwest, and the Holmes property (now Ocean Creek Resort) on the northeast”. This petition was denied on the grounds that less than fifty percent of the petitioners were freehold electors in the proposed Town of Briarcliffe Acres. An Election was finally held in February 17, 1976, in which 126 (versus 86 opposed) voted in favor of incorporation. On February 25, 1976, the Certificate of Incorporation of the Town of Briarcliffe Acres was issued. The Town’s first Mayor and Town Council was subsequently elected in November 1976.
The Lutheran Church of the Risen Christ was later annexed in 1977, at their request, and is the only property of the Town that lies west of Highway 17.
In 1980, at the request of the US Postal Service, streets were named in addition to the sole lot number designation for house addresses. In 1982, the Town acquired title to the roads from the Association, and after much contention, paved the roads in 1987-88.
The SC Highway Department installed the long-sought after traffic light at the intersection of Middle Gate Road and US Highway 17 in 1984. In May 1985 the Town employed its first professional police officer. By 1986 the telephone directory listed 202 houses in Briarcliffe Acres.
The 2000 US Census listed the population of Briarcliffe Acres to be 267, and in 2010 this number was 257. There are now ~245 homes and ~15 empty residential lots within the Town limits.
Wildlife is in abundance in the Town, including many species of birds, deer, foxes, opossums, rabbits, squirrels, bobcats, coyote, snakes, alligators, ducks, and herons. In 1973 the South Carolina General Assembly declared Briarcliffe Acres a Bird Sanctuary, and in 2006 The National Wildlife Association named Briarcliffe Acres a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel made landfall at high tide with 130 mph winds. There were no reported deaths or injuries, but there was considerable property damage. The storm devastated the beachfront and leveled the dunes. Sand filled the saltwater swashes and ultimately diverted the course of White Point Swash from the southern to the northern boundaries of Briarciffe Acres, where it stands today.
The palm-thatched beach shelter serving as the neighborhood “cabana” also disappeared in the hurricane, to be replaced by the current structure in 1955.
The new cabana was built by the efforts of 37 residents who donated $50 each (or the equivalent in labor), for a total of $1,940 for its construction. It then underwent significant repairs in 1991 following Hurricane Hugo (1989). In subsequent years the cabana continued to receive constant repairs and improvements. The original boardwalk crossing the dunes was added in the mid 1970’s, and replaced with the current walk in 1987. A gate restricting access to the cabana and parking lot was installed in 1984. By 1994, it became obvious annual dues would not cover the extent of repairs needed on the cabana. The Board undertook a fund drive raising $12,620 from 129 contributors to finance the needed repairs and improvements. Since that time annual fees and the countless hours of Association members time have been sufficient to keep the structure and appearance safe and functional.
Habitat Park, which is located on the corner of Cabana Road and Pine Tree Lane, was inspired by a handful of residents who became committed to the task of transforming the overgrown lot into a peaceful nature park overlooking North Lake. The benches and other “hardscape” items, as well as the plants, were purchased with funds donated by Briarcliffe Acres residents. A deck overlooking the lake was built with funds given by one family.
During the first couple of years, volunteers carried water from their homes to help keep the plants thriving. A Riparian Buffer was planted to help protect the quality of the lake water, and a hand pump was donated and installed on the deck. Today we have an aerator fountain in the lake and a sprinkler system on a timer that draws water from the lake.
The park was officially designated a Community Wildlife Habitat in 2006, the 19th community in the country to receive such an honor. The National Wildlife Federation commended the dedicated residents of Briarcliffe Acres and the Community Wildlife Team for their efforts to demonstrate the beauty and conservation value of planting native trees, flowers and grasses. Later, through the generosity of a Briarcliffe Acres homeowner, an irrigation system was installed. In 2011, a gazebo that was donated by a Briarcliffe family, was moved from Green Park and placed in Habitat Park. The park now falls under the “umbrella” of the Association.
For the last several years an annual Art-In-The-Park social event has been held each April in the park.
In 1993 the Membership voted to dedicate one of the park areas to the memory of Frank Green and in honor of his wife, Dorothy Fillius Green. Subsequently a dedicatory plaque was erected in the park bordering on the South Lake and located between 197 and 198 Cabana Road.
There are two spring-fed freshwater lakes in Briarcliffe Acres, North Lake (~5.2 acres) and South Lake (~3.4 acres). Both were part of the common areas over which the Association was given control and management of in the Declaration of July 12, 1954. The Town has since assumed responsibility for the lakes. Both the Town and the Association work closely with the SC Wildlife and Marine Resources Department to keep the lakes free of algae and keep weed growth at bay. The lakes are now routinely stocked with fish beneficial to the habitat, and aeration fountains have also been installed.